In rare criticism, IDF officer says army ‘failing its mission’ in West Bank

In rare criticism, IDF officer says army ‘failing its mission’ in West Bank

Col. Alon Madanes writes detailed letter listing failures he says have cost lives and ‘morally corrupted’ the military’; IDF says the issues are being dealt with

Col. Alon Madanes in 2016. (Screenshot: YouTube)
Col. Alon Madanes in 2016. (Screenshot: YouTube)

A letter written by a senior Israeli military commander expressing unusually detailed criticism of the Israel Defense Force’s top brass and of prevalent procedures with its system was leaked to the press on Saturday, raising issues and problems the officer said had cost lives and compromised the army’s moral values.

The rare letter was written in July by Colonel Alon Madanes as a summary of his two years as operations officer in the IDF’s Central Command — which is in charge of the West Bank — and published on Saturday by the Ynet news website.

In the  letter, addressed to the commander of the Central Command, Madanes called his job “the most frustrating and ungrateful position I’ve experienced in my military service.”

The officer intentionally wrote the document, which raises various issues rarely discussed publicly, before the process that assigned him a new position, so that it wouldn’t be perceived as a form of revenge.

Madanes, 42, had been a candidate to be the next commander of the Paratroopers Brigade, a prestigious position that is seen as a springboard to senior roles in the military, including that of chief of staff. He eventually landed the position of army attache at Israel’s embassy in the United States, which is also considered desirable but from which officials rarely advance to top slots.

Illustrative: IDF soldiers conduct raids in the West Bank on September 27, 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)

In his opening paragraph, Madanes wrote that the document was written out of “great concern and the understanding that we have no other country or military,” and that he would focus on the “empty half of the glass” in the hope that the issues would be taken care of.

The first section of the letter, Ynet reported, focused on what he said was a fear among senior officers to voice their frank opinions. He said he had been told that his tendency to “tell it like it is” was great until he became a company commander, but that it would endanger his future in the military as he rose in the ranks.

The letter decried several projects in which decisions were made “on shaky professional grounds” and sometimes following the opinion of a single low-ranked officer.

One example was the erection of many cameras on Route 443 linking Jerusalem and central Israel, a road that has been frequently targeted by Palestinian terrorists throwing rocks and firebombs at passing vehicles.

“Millions were invested in installing cameras on Route 443 that didn’t succeed in changing the trend of lone-wolf terrorism around that route,” Madanes wrote.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot at Glilot military base near Tel Aviv, March 28, 2018 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

He also slammed Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot’s multi-year plan, which has now entered its fifth year, for “trying to change too much in the military at once,” and called for an “honest inquiry” into it.

In another section, titled “corruption,” the officer criticized the prevalence of deals in which officials get paid to assign certain soldiers to certain positions or courses.

He also said some offices took years to renovate while others were “completely rebuilt within no more than two weeks,” adding that many — but not nearly enough — contractors and officers had been arrested and jailed in recent years in connection with suspected corruption.

“I feel a significant erosion of our ethical conduct as a system,” Madanes wrote. “There is great disrespect of discipline. There were many incidents in the last two years in which we could have prevented casualties and fatalities had we dealt with cases of negligence in a timely and strict manner.”

Examples cited by Madanes included the 2017 death of Lt. David Golovensitz, who was shot in an accidental discharge during a military drill in Hebron, and the death this year of Staff Sergeant Shahar Strug during a game of “draw” with his friend at the Nachshon Base in the central West Bank. Those cases were allegedly not adequately studied to prevent similar cases in the future, and decisions following them haven’t been implemented.

Madanes said many soldiers and commanders in the field were “unprofessional” and lacked basic legal knowledge, and that legal experts had no experience in battle or serving in the West Bank.

He gave as an example the army’s “problematic” dealing with the widely publicized case of Elor Azaria, a soldier who shot and killed an already injured Palestinian assailant in Hebron in 2016 and was subsequently convicted of manslaughter and jailed.

Former IDF soldier Elor Azaria, who was convicted of manslaughter for shooting dead an incapacitated Palestinian assailant in the West Bank city of Hebron, appears before a parole board in the army’s Tel Aviv headquarters on March 14, 2018. (Flash90)

Madanes also criticized what he said was the military’s tendency to trim Central Command manpower, especially soldiers operating in the West Bank, and boost it only after terror attacks for no reason other than to stifle criticism that the military wasn’t doing enough.

While the challenges facing the command in the West Bank haven’t changed over the past two years, Madanes said, the number of deployed soldiers has decreased and isn’t sufficient to achieve its goals.

“I think too many Israelis were killed and injured in the last two years,” he wrote, saying that the “dozens of hurt and bereaved families” meant the Central Command had been failing its mission.

Another criticism voiced in the letter was aimed at commanders’ “over-dependence” on intelligence, rather than learning from past incidents.

“Next year there will be terror attacks at Ayosh Junction, stabbing attempts at Damascus Gate [in Jerusalem’s Old City], rocks will be hurled at three specific locations on Route 443, and in 2020 there will be another terror attack in Halamish,” Madanes wrote, referring to places in the West Bank and Jerusalem that were repeatedly targeted in recent years by Palestinian assailants.

A section of Route 443. (Gili Yaari / Flash90)

“This document should be archived and pulled out in two years, and then we’ll see who’s the fool — me or the intelligence addicts,” he wrote.

He also criticized the long time it takes to locate and arrest some Palestinian terrorists, despite the investment in related technological projects.

In its response, the IDF praised Madanes’s track record over the last few years as an “experienced officer and a successful commander,” but claimed there was “free discourse” between field commanders and their superiors. It also said the decision to trim the manpower was “justified and proved itself.”

Regarding Route 443, the military admitted that at first cameras weren’t connected to operational systems, but added that they were later connected and that rock throwing was now down from five or six incidents per week to just one per month on average.

The military said that while some of Madanes’s comments were correct, his remarks were based on his perspective and were not shared by many in the field. It also denied being in a moral crisis.

“The content raised in the letter was checked by the command’s commander and issues raised that were found to justify inquiries or steps are being taken care of accordingly,” it said.

The military later clarified that Madanes’s future in the army wasn’t in jeopardy following the letter and its leaking.

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